(By Andrew MacKie-Mason)
By request, my thoughts on the contraceptive mandate issue...
Most of the discussion surrounding the Obama Administration's recently promulgated mandate that employers must include contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans has, unfortunately, been focused on the wrong question. People have been asking whether religious employers ought to be exempted from the generally applicable law, but that question misses the reality of what employer-mandates with this really are: a restriction on the sellers of labor.
Mandates like this do not increase the costs of labor to employers, or regulate their actions. Instead, they put a restriction on people who are attempted to sell their labor to those employers. It tells them that they must take a certain amount of their pay in health insurance that covers contraceptives. Of course, the mandate is enforced by looking at employers, but that's an administrative detail, though one that unfortunately obscures the heart of what's going on.
And that's exactly why focusing on the the religious freedom rights of the employers is misguided. Beyond involving a tricky juggling of who exactly those employers are and what their beliefs and affiliations hold (since religious freedom rights fundamentally belong to individuals, and only derivatively to institutions), it misses the point that employees are the ones with the real conscientious objection. It's their wages that are being diverted to activities they disagree with.
Opponents of the mandate have come up with a tortured theory under which paying for the insurance coverage counts as cooperation with the ultimate "evil" of the use of contraceptives. But there's a simpler answer: employees with a religious objection should be able to opt for plans which don't cover contraception. If they have employees who so opt, employers should have the choice to offer a plan that satisfies those employees. (Of course, the employees can't force the business to pay their wages in any specific way.)
This vests the power and rights with the people whose money and consciences are really at stake, and removes the ability of extremely economically powerful religious organizations to impose their religious beliefs on employees and thus distort the market in contravention of true free exercise principles.